Want a Truly Innovative Organization? Think INSIDE the Box…

Stuck in a rut? Facing a deadline to a particularly vexing problem with no solution in sight? Maybe you just want to mix things up to get some new momentum, but you don’t know where or how to start…

Are you tempted to think outside the box?

A very traditional view of innovation and creativity is that it should be unstructured and not follow any patterns or rules. Leaders everywhere are encouraged to “think outside the box.” The problem facing you should be a launching pad for brainstorming ideas, no matter how wild or far-fetched they are. The theory is that moving as far from your problem will help you come up with a breakthrough idea.

Maybe it’s time to think inside the box instead.

I first heard the term “think inside the box” when I became a part of Elevation Church in Charlotte NC over 4 years ago. Elevation’s core values are expressed in what we call The Code – here’s the definition:

We understand what God has done in and through our church is not normal. The only explanation is God’s hand of favor and mercy over a group of people willing to follow Him faithfully. To help maintain our unity, tone, and trajectory, we developed 12 core values as a church that make us unique. We call it The Code.

One of those values is “We think inside the box.”

The Code 6I’ve seen it demonstrated time and time again – from a choreographed dance step illustrating the battle of Elijah and the prophets of Baal to creative videos for worship to innovative partnerships with local groups who serve our community.

Thinking inside the box is now the norm at Elevation.

For many organizations, though, the concept is unknown. Fortunately, that’s about to change.

Authors Jacob Goldenberg and Drew Boyd recently released their new book, Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. It is the first book to detail their innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking – inside the box thinking.

Here’s a quick overview of five techniques Goldenberg and Boyd have discovered after studies of innovation-related phenomena in a variety of contexts.

  • Subtraction: Innovative products and services tend to have had something removed, usually something that was previously thought to be essential to use the product or service. The original Sony Walkman had the recording function subtracted, defying all logic to the idea of a “recorder.” Even Sony’s chairman and inventor of the Walkman, Akio Morita, was surprised by the market’s enthusiastic response.
  • Task Unification: Innovative products and services tend to have had certain tasks brought together and “unified” within one component of the product or service, usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task. Crowdsourcing, for example, leverages large groups of people by tasking them to generate insights or tasks, sometimes without even realizing it.
  • Multiplication: Innovative products and services tend to have had a component copied but changed in some way, usually in a way that initially seemed unnecessary or redundant. Many innovations in cameras, including the basis of photography itself, are based on copying a component and then changing it. For example, a double flash when snapping a photo reduces the likelihood of “red-eye.”
  • Division: Innovative products and services tend to have had a component divided out of the product or service and placed back somewhere into the usage situation, usually in a way that initially seemed unproductive or unworkable. Dividing out the function of a refrigerator drawer and placing it somewhere else in the kitchen creates a cooling drawer.
  • Attribute Dependency: Innovative products and services tend to have had two attributes correlated with each other, usually attributes that previously seemed unrelated. As one attribute changes, another changes. Transition sunglasses, for example, get darker as the outside light gets brighter.

The authors have found that the key to using these five techniques is the starting point. It is an idea called they call “The Closed World.”

We tend to be most surprised with those ideas “right under noses,” that are connected in some way to our current reality or view of the world. This is counterintuitive because most people think you need to get way outside their current domain to be innovative. Methods like brainstorming use random stimulus to push you “outside the box” for new and inventive ideas. Just the opposite is true. The most surprising ideas are right nearby. We have a nickname for The Closed World…we call it Inside the Box.

Are you ready to do some thinking – inside the box?

inspired by Inside the Box, by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg
Inside the Box

Designing Elevation Church’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Team Members

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles for several months, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture of churches. As a Guest Services Coordinator at Elevation Church’s Uptown Campus, it was easy for me to make some applications.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, here’s a quick outline summary of the first tier and the second tier. Here’s a brief outline of Tier Three.

Part Three: What eTeams Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

Create the Relationship: How Frontline Team Members Create Return Guests

  1. Listen to the Guest
  2. Understand the Guest’s needs
  3. Be honest and sincere
  4. Know the Elevation WE from top to bottom
  5. Understand the foundation of the “One Day” principle
  6. Take responsibility

The Experience Never Ends: There are 168 Hours in Your Week

  1. Be a team player
  2. GS excellence comes from practice, experience, observation, and personal commitment
  3. Positive thinking comes from following simple steps that produce a WOW! environment for our Guests
  4. Listen to the Guest

Play to Win: Encourage Teamwork at Every Level of Your Organization

  1. Find ways to balance individual achievement and teamwork
  2. Honor team achievements
  3. Demonstrate the importance of the whole team
  4. Encourage the team to take ownership of GS issues
  5. Encourage the team to cite the teamwork examples of others
  6. Publicize “heroic” stories of teamwork throughout the organization

Team members must buy into the culture and understand their role in maintaining and supporting the culture through their actions.

Team members are the ones who come closest into contact with your Guests, and therefore are crucial to your organization’s ability to serve them well. Team members must be empowered to establish relationships with Guests and find ways to take care of them. They must listen, understand the Guest’s needs, and follow-through with whatever needs to be done.

The front line is where the action’s at!

Designing Elevation Church’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Team Leaders

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture at my church, Elevation Church in Charlotte NC.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, you can read a quick summary of the first tier here. Here’s a quick summary of the second tier:

Part Two: What eLeaders Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

#1 Strategy: Recruit the Smile

  1. It’s not the role for everyone
  2. 4 reasons volunteers choose your eTeam
  3. Recruit the smile, train the skill
  4. Invest in your team

That’s My Job: Empower Teams to Act Like Entrepreneurs

  1. Trust your team
  2. Give them freedom to make decisions on the spot
  3. Push decision-making responsibility and authority down to the lowest level possible
  4. Encourage your team every step of the way
  5. Use mistakes as tools for learning

Dump the Rules: Tear Down the Barriers to Exceptional Volunteer Service

  1. Trust your team’s judgment
  2. Simplify the process
  3. Do what’s right
  4. Promote one rule: The Golden Rule

This is How We Do It: Manage, Mentor, and Maintain Great Teams

  1. Find ways to motivate your team
  2. Treat the team with dignity and respect
  3. Encourage new team members to find mentors
  4. Promote a culture where team members mentor unselfishly
  5. Provide coaching tools
  6. Promote a culture of loyalty and ownership

Recognition, Competition, & Praise: Create a Sustainable, Emotional Bond with Your Team

  1. Always find ways to praise team members for great acts of GS
  2. Recognize and reward
  3. Provide team members with information on how they are doing
  4. Send notes, emails, phone calls to team members regularly

Staff and coordinators may create the atmosphere and culture, but it is up to the people on the front lines to put it into practice. Team Leaders at Elevation have experienced the front lines – that’s where they came from! Because of this, they know what to look for in a new volunteer, how to empower people, mentor them, train them, and praise them for a job well done.

Next: Team Members

Designing Elevation’s Volunteer Culture with the Excellence of Nordstrom’s – Coordinators

Reaction and comments from yesterday’s post and the correlation to the Ritz Carlton brings to mind another iconic retail establishment known for its customer service: Nordstrom’s.

Last fall, I was privileged to speak at the Worship Facility Conference and Expo on the topic of “Servant Leadership.” I had been doing research on Nordstrom’s customer service principles for several months, and found that they were easy to translate into the volunteer culture of churches. As a Guest Services Coordinator at Elevation Church’s Uptown Campus, it was easy for me to make some applications.

Taking the same 3-tier approach at Nordstrom’s, here’s a quick outline summary of the first tier:

What eCoordinators Can Do to Create a Culture of Servants

The Elevation Story

  1. An appreciation of what Elevation is all about cannot be fully grasped without an understanding of our culture
  2. Know the history (past); live out the history (present); know where you’re going (future)
  3. Vision

Spreading the Servant’s Culture: Publicly Celebrate Your Heroes; Promote from Within the Team

  1. Storytelling and folklore of individual and team success
  2. Stories of heroics are regularly shared – a standard to aspire to and even surpass
  3. eCoordinators with a deep understanding of the Elevation culture and who really value it

Line Up and Cheer for Your Team: Create an Inviting Place to Serve

  1. If leaders and team members are excited about the experience of serving at Elevation, they will exceed your expectations
  2. Create something extra every week

How Can I Help You? Provide Lots of Choices

  1. Make sure you have all the choices you need in order to give potential leaders and team members options to serve
  2. Emulating the Nordstrom way
    1. Cross-Training all area teams
    2. Identify leader and team needs before they are expressed

While all team members need to have an appreciation and awareness of the organization’s history and culture, the eCoordinators are critical. They create, maintain, and support the servant culture.

Next: eLeaders

The Lineup at Elevation Uptown

It’s one thing to have a Credo, Three Steps of Service, and 12 Service Values like the Ritz-Carlton (see the post here for more details). Many businesses go through the exercise of defining key values or composing mission statements. They might even display them in their literature, or in imposing art displays on the corporate walls.

How many organizational leaders understand the importance of regular and repetitive presentation of the core aspects of their business – not only to management, but to their front-line staff?

Enter the “lineup” at Ritz-Carlton.

To truly appreciate the Ritz-Carlton leadership approach to repeated dissemination of the “Gold Standard” mentioned here, you would have to drop in on a section of the housekeeping staff as they prepare for their days work – or at the corporate headquarters – or in the kitchen of the fine restaurants that serve the hotel chain – or anywhere, and everywhere, throughout the entire organization.

You would observe that a meeting is taking place at the beginning of each shift. Not just any meeting, though: the leader in each group starts by sharing the Credo and talking about the importance of creating a unique guest experience. Another team member might share a guest story from a Ritz-Carlton hotel in another country. Another team member shares how what they do in their department helps create memorable guest experiences. Then a few quick announcements, special recognitions are given, and the meeting is closed with a motivational quote by another team member.

All in about 20 minutes.

Every day.

On every shift.

In every Ritz-Carlton hotel and office around the world.

The magic of the lineup involves the following:

  • Repetition of values – the core belief that values need to be discussed daily, and that values can’t be discussed enough
  • Common language – shared phrases across all tasks binds the team together
  • Visual symbols – The Credo is printed on a card that all team members carry at all times
  • Oral traditions – Personal, direct, and face-to-face communication makes a huge impact in a world increasingly dominated by e-mail, text, and voice messages
  • Positive storytelling – stories communicate life in a powerful and memorable way
  • Modeling by leaders – the active, daily presence of the leaders communicates the importance of the time together

What would “lineup” for each of your teams do to preserve the core values, communicate the importance of everyone on the team, and provide momentum for the day’s activities?

At Elevation Uptown, here’s what our ‘lineup’ looks like on Sunday mornings at 7:45 AM:

 Elevation Uptown 012013
Or how about this word for the process? Alignment.

That’s how we roll Uptown!

Putting Processes to Work for Your Guest Services Team

Here’s the bottom line principle when it comes to designing processes for guest services:

An organization needs to think like a customer (or in this case, a Guest)

Put yourselves in the shoes of the typical guest coming to your campus this weekend. Walk through (literally) every touchpoint and interaction that your guest might conceivably encounter. Develop a process or system that will anticipate their need and meet it before it becomes apparent to the guest.

Need help working it out? Try this six-step continuous improvement cycle from Xerox:

  • Identify and select the problem to be worked on
  • Analyze the problem
  • Generate potential solutions
  • Select and plan the best solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate the solution

Once you have identified a solution and find that it works, continue to use it, evaluating it periodically as needed, replacing it completely when it no longer works.

Here’s a real world situation as an example:

I serve as a Guest Services Team Coordinator for Elevation Church’s Uptown campus in Charlotte, NC. We meet in McGlohan Theater in Spirit Square (the former First Baptist Charlotte campus, turned into an entertainment venue in the 1970’s when the church relocated).

Problem: Almost everyone attending the Uptown Campus drives from somewhere else in Charlotte – which means lots of cars.

Analysis: The theatre only has about 40 parking spaces associated with it. Wanting to reserve those for VIPs (first time guests) and families with small children, we had to locate other parking.

Potential Solutions: Everybody for themselves (no way!); utilize street parking (not enough, and used by businesses or not available many Sundays); negotiate favorable rates with surface parking lots (not so favorable rates, it turns out); negotiate the use of a parking deck 1 1/2 blocks away (good rate, but a little far)

Select the Best Solution: Utilize the parking deck because it puts the majority of cars in one place, allowing maximum efficiency of guest services teams; helps with security; gives a sense of “place” to everyone coming Uptown

Implement the Solution: Determine the traffic patterns of cars coming Uptown and design appropriate signs and locations to maximize impact; develop a checklist of the different types of signs and their locations; negotiate with parking company to insure staff is on site or nearby in case of mechanical problems; promote the “how” of the parking deck through website videos, print materials, and live announcements as needed; plan for inclement weather; coordinate Parking Team, VIP Team, and Greeters to insure smooth transition from parking deck to theater

Evaluate the Solution: Every week the parking team notes hits and misses, and adjusts the process to eliminate them

That’s how we do it at Uptown!

Now, take the principle and apply it in your context.

Efficient processes can transform your Guest Services Team

My favorite post from August, 2012

When the DNC Comes to Town…

Adventures in Parking & Traffic Control at Elevation Uptown

The most brilliant battle plan is only good till the first shot is fired

Attributed to von Clausewitz, Prussian military theorist

When Charlotte was announced as the site for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in February of 2011, something clicked in my mind that the event might impact our church, Elevation Uptown. The schedule hadn’t been announced but early indications of events beginning on Monday September 3 told me that eventually it would impact us.

Sometimes, my hunches are right. This one was dead on.

First of all, you have to understand that Elevation’s Uptown campus (which meets in McGlohan Theater and started in August 2008) is literally in the middle of Uptown Charlotte, and almost everyone who comes drives a car to get there…and parks in the 7th Street Parking deck a block away.

Earlier this year a news release from the DNC indicated “several streets in the Uptown area surrounding the Time Warner Arena will be affected.”

Because of President Obama’s involvement in DNC activities, security plans were not going to be released until several days prior to the convention’s start.

When they were released, we were in for a surprise: the streets leading to, and surrounding, the parking deck we used were going to be closed, with “restricted access.”


As noted above, Elevation Uptown worships in a theater, but all our Guests and attenders park in a deck a block away – which just happened to be on the other side of the “restricted access” line.

Campus Pastor Joel Delph met with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officials, who assured him that the church would have access to the parking deck by going though the checkpoints. Additionally, an open lot 3 blocks away that we use for our volunteers would be available as usual, as well as the 2 lots next to the theater that we use for VIPs (our first time Guests) and families with small children.

Armed with these assurances, we moved forward with a plan to have our weekend experiences as normal at 9:30 and 11:15. The week before, we encouraged our volunteers to pick up an Elevation logo card to put in the dash to help move through the checkpoints. Late in the week, an email blast went out encouraging people to come a little early to allow extra time for the checkpoint access.

Still, I had that little gnawing feeling in my gut. I take my role as a Guest Services coordinator very seriously, and I wanted to make sure we were ready for the day.

Sunday September 2, 7:30 AM

Pulling up to our Volunteer lot, I find it chained and barricaded

Over at our VIP lots, we found the electronic gates turned off – no access.

Trying to get a handle on what we could expect, I talk to the policeman stationed outside the theater entrance, only to find he’s from Louisville, KY, and doesn’t really know anything except he’s be assigned to this spot – and, by the way, his radio wasn’t working

Checking with other policeman at the parking deck entrance, I found the same thing: they were from Louisville, and only had site-specific orders – no overall idea of the street closure plan. When I showed him the map the CMPD gave us, he said that was the first he had seen of a map.

The quote above came to mind…

By this time, our volunteers were arriving in full force, only to find the lot not accessible. A quick sign adaptation directed them to the parking deck. There, at least, the crew that runs the parking deck was ready in full force. They were only allowing cars that had Elevation logos or were on their approved list into the deck. Everyone else was turned around. The lines were long, and I know people were frustrated.

As expected, our crowds were lower than usual. I don’t know the exact number because I never made it off the street, but I would say probably half as many as a typical Sunday.

Some quick word pictures from street-side vantage point:

  • Squads of law enforcement officials from around the state, walking with an intense look around the area
  • A Hummer with two soldiers, M-16s slung around their shoulders
  • At least 6 different motorcycle patrols checking in to the precinct across the street
  • 4 different bicycle police squads whizzing by in a blur
  • A mounted police patrol clip-clopping down the street
  • Black SUVS by the dozens, with sun-shaded occupants
  • Helicopters buzzing overhead all day long – both military and news outlets
  • Assorted vehicles of every size and shape, belonging to a broad array of law enforcement agencies
  • Construction crews bringing in, and installing, concrete barriers around the perimeter of the theater

And an image that sums it up pretty well:

photo from the Charlotte Observer online

We did the best we could, and I hope anyone attending Elevation Uptown for the first time or for the fortieth time felt as welcome as we could make it.

Special thanks go out to members of our Greeters, VIP, and Security Teams for pitching in and helping things go as smoothly as possible.

As always, our Parking Team rocks. Aaron, Tim, Ed – you’re the best!

I’m headed to the beach…